Amy Cartwright on the scallop farm

Amy Cartwright graduated in BSc (Hons) Marine Biology and Coastal Ecology in 2015 and currently works as a Project Support Officer in the University of Plymouth Marine Institute.

This is Amy's story

I wouldn’t be working in marine ecological research today if it wasn’t for my degree with the University of Plymouth. Plymouth is world renowned as a centre for excellence in marine science so I’m really proud to have a degree from this institution. I believe a degree in marine science from Plymouth is viewed favourably worldwide so if I want to study or work in institutions abroad in the future I think having a degree from Plymouth in particular will be really valuable.

I learnt so much on my course, everything from practical skills conducting ecological surveys in the field, taxonomic knowledge of marine organisms through to data analysis and report writing. I also had the opportunity to learn skills in commercial diving, power boating, first aid and sea survival, which I wouldn’t have had the chance to undertake had I chosen to study my undergraduate degree at another university. 

All these skills have helped me in one way or another, either to discover what career path I wanted to follow or to actually gain work roles.

My favourite memories are of our fieldwork trips, the ones closer to home on the rocky shores and estuaries around Plymouth as well as trips to new destinations in France and South Africa. Working alongside our lecturers and learning first hand from experienced researchers in the field is second to none. The residential field courses, particularly to South Africa, allowed us to experience amazing animal and plant life that we may otherwise never have come across, and for anyone interested in the natural world this is always a very exciting thing.

The fact that I was able to study a foundation year that led directly onto my chosen degree was something that only the University of Plymouth offered me. If it wasn’t for this opportunity I probably would never have gotten to realise my dream of studying marine biology. As I was a mature student and had been out of education for some time the first year of a full degree would have seemed really daunting, but with the knowledge and skills I gained during extended science I felt confident going into the first year of my chosen degree course and like I was on the right path.

The lecturers on extended science were so supportive that from day one I knew I had made the right choice to study for an extra year and brush up on my skills in biology, chemistry, maths and statistics. With this foundation year under my belt I felt confident in starting my degree, instead of feeling like a “fish out of water”!

Going to university opens doors and the experiences I gained and people I met whilst studying at Plymouth helped shaped my future career path, as well as develop me as a person and influence the course of my life. If I hadn’t come to Plymouth I may never have had these chances.

I would definitely recommend anyone to undertake a course at the University of Plymouth, particularly in marine science and conservation, looking back it has been one of the best experiences of my life so far. I feel my degree has totally changed the course of my life and has given me the skills I needed to follow the path that I’d always hoped for. Its location, facilities, opportunities, world class research and dedicated teaching staff, to me, make Plymouth the best place in the UK to study marine biology, ecology and conservation.

Pioneering research work

Immediately after finishing my studies I started a traineeship in environmental education with a local wildlife trust. I’m passionate about engaging people with issues affecting the environment and spent six months delivering education sessions to the public, running workshops and organising events. It was really valuable experience but I found I missed the scientific, research and fieldwork side of conservation so when I heard about the opportunity to work at the Marine Institute, I jumped at the chance.

Having the opportunity to assist with pioneering research work, such as the annual Lyme Bay monitoring project, is something that I feel very privileged to be part of. The Lyme Bay Reserve marked the largest ever closure of a marine area to protect wildlife in 2008 and the University of Plymouth has been recording the recovery of the area ever since, we’ve just celebrated ten years of protection! Working hands-on in the field as part of the team continuing this vital work is very exciting to me. 

I’ve also had some amazing wildlife encounters during fieldwork such as a pod of 40 common dolphins swimming all around the boat, bow-riding, jumping and spinning in the air – not a bad day in the office!

Trying to make a decision on what I want to do with my future has been difficult. I’ve always known I wanted to work in marine conservation but I wasn’t sure whether that was working in outreach, for an NGO, in research or something else. Luckily for me, through my experience in my current role at University of Plymouth Marine Institute I have come to see that working in scientific research is where I feel that I can make the biggest difference to the future of the marine environment.

Amy Cartwright

Amy’s advice:

Make the most of any opportunities that come your way in order to build experience and a varied skilled set. I undertook many different volunteering roles throughout my studies including working at the National Marine Aquarium as a volunteer diver, working in the laboratories of the Marine Biology and Ecology Research Centre (MBERC) at the University and undertaking a three month placement as a volunteer SCUBA instructor for a conservation organisation in the Philippines. All these experiences helped me get into the position I am in today, helped me form ideas about my future career path and fuelled my passion for fieldwork and marine ecological research. You will probably never have as much free time to get involved with new projects and opportunities as when you are a student, so try to make the most of it.

A good work-life balance is key; getting out in the beautiful countryside around the South West, eating well, resting and making time for friends all became more important to me as my studies progressed, I just wish I had found that balance sooner.

I don’t think I would have done anything differently. I started seeking out opportunities way before my final exams even started, making sure I had a paid work placement lined up for as soon as I had finished uni. I’m grateful for the variety of experiences I’ve had since graduating; working in the community engagement side of nature conservation and then going onto get more involved in the scientific research aspect. These experiences have helped me realise the route I want to take in the future.

Even though many of my course mates have now dispersed far and wide to continue their studies, undertake paid work or gain experience through internships many of us are still in touch; it’s great to hear about what everyone is getting up to and the varied experiences we’re all having. 

As I work at the University I still regularly see many of my old lecturers both in and out of work, at first it was a bit strange being on the “other side” of things but now I just feel like one of the team. It’s great to still be part of the academic environment and able to share ideas and knowledge with such an experienced group of researchers.

Amy Cartwright at graduation
Amy at graduation
Anemone. Getty Images

Study marine and coastal ecosystems in a global context

In this hands-on degree, one of the best in the UK and with an international reputation, you’ll tackle big questions, such as why are coral reefs so diverse, how do we best manage and conserve marine life, and how will climate change impact biodiversity? Fieldwork will be a key component of your studies, using the excellent marine and coastal habitats on Plymouth’s doorstep, as well as on residential courses in France and South Africa.

BSc (Hons) Marine Biology and Coastal Ecology